21 After he had said this, Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, ‘Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me.’
22 His disciples stared at one another, at a loss to know which of them he meant. 23 One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. 24 Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask him which one he means.’
25 Leaning back against Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’
26 Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.
So Jesus told him, ‘What you are about to do, do quickly.’ 28 But no one at the meal understood why Jesus said this to him. 29 Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the festival, or to give something to the poor. 30 As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.
31 When he was gone, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him,[c] God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.
Why did he do it? What got into him? In hindsight, maybe we should have seen it coming – remember, we did notice little things that at the time seemed nothing, but when you add them all together, they explain a lot.
We could be thinking of the Germanwings plane crash, but we’re not – rather, we’re thinking about another betrayal: that of Judas and his betrayal of Jesus. Various explanations have been put forward to explain the motivation of Judas: perhaps he wanted to force Jesus’ hand so that the Kingdom of God would come in its fullness now; or that Jesus would be cornered into overthrowing the Romans in order to save himself; or perhaps it was the money – those thirty pieces of silver he received for planting a kiss on the cheek of his friend, after all, he kept the common purse and we know he was pilfering.
The truth is, we do not know what his motivation was, only that he did it and regretted it, and his remorse was so great that he took his own life. We do, however, know that one being betrayed could see it coming. Jesus, who could see into the souls of those disturbed in spirit, saw into the soul of Judas. The body language, the silence, the avoiding of eye contact, the change of behaviour – something was going on that Judas could not hide and when Jesus handed him the bread, he knew he had been rumbled. The darkness of the night around them enveloped Judas and penetrated every part of his being as he stepped out of the house to go and fulfil his side of the bargain.
The tragedy of this story should not be lost on us as we reflect on the journey of Jesus to the cross and resurrection: it was one of his own who was instrumental in Jesus’ arrest, and the way events unfolded, that arrest would lead to the pain and humiliation of crucifixion. This was truly betrayal.
There are two particular things that I find interesting about this situation, and they speak powerfully to us today. The first is that when Jesus said to the group of disciples that one of them would betray him, they didn’t know whom he meant, and each of them appears to be worried that it would be him – the Synoptic Gospels have the disciples asking Jesus, ‘Is it I?’ Not only had they not seen the signs in the life of Judas, there was a disturbing awareness within all that they might have it in them to betray Jesus. This is sobering for us in our time. If the Apostles felt it possible that they could betray Jesus, then perhaps we need to look to ourselves. Our betrayal cannot be a kiss on his cheek, but a myriad of other possibilities surrounds us as ways not only of denying Jesus as Peter did, but betraying him as Judas did.
The second is that whatever motivation Judas had in betraying Jesus (and we should not immediately leap to the conclusion that it was malevolent), once he had done the deed, he had no control over the consequences. He might have wanted Jesus to fight back, but Jesus didn’t; he might have wanted God to send the armies of angels to intervene, but God didn’t; he might have wanted the arrest of Jesus to be a rallying point of insurrection among the people, but it wasn’t; he might have thought that the thirty silver coins would feel good in his hands, but they didn’t. Once Judas had betrayed Jesus, events took their own course. As many a spy has found out, even what may be seen as justified betrayal can lead to unanticipated catastrophic consequences. Judas was no exception.
However, what was an evil deed in human terms was, in the providence of God, used to bring glory to God and God’s Son. John regularly uses the term ‘glory’ to interpret the crucifixion – Jesus will be ‘lifted up’ upon the cross in both humiliation and glory. Humiliation we can understand humanly, but in viewing the cross from the perspective of God, it becomes the brightest revelation of God’s love in Christ, and shines with the glory of God’s presence. The darkness of betrayal has, unexpectedly, led to the revelation of God’s glory.